Qaeda sends message to Algeria: We are here

Friday 18/03/2016
Most serious terrorist attack since 2013

ALGIERS - Rockets on Friday struck an Algerian gas plant run by foreign energy giants in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda, three years after a deadly hostage crisis at another facility in the country.

There were no casualties reported in the attack on the plant operated by Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Algerian company Sonatrach.

It was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on its Telegram channel in a message saying that it comes within its "war on the interest of the Crusaders in every place," according to SITE Intelligence Group.

Friday's attack was the most serious since other Al-Qaeda-linked militants stormed a complex in Algeria's remote east in 2013 and began a four-day siege that left dozens dead.

The defence ministry said two homemade rockets crashed near a guard post of a Sonatrach facility in Krechba, 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) south of Algiers, without causing casualties or damage.

"The rapid reaction of the army detachment tasked with protecting the site foiled this attempted terrorist attack," it said in an online statement, without elaborating.

Statoil said the gas asset was hit by "explosive munitions fired from a distance" in the early morning attack.

A processing facility was shut down "as a safety precaution", BP said.

A plant employee who did not wish to be named said that the site is surrounded by a security fence and soldiers are permanently on guard.

"The rockets seem to have been fired from very far away," he said.

Military personnel mobilised soon after the rocket fire to prevent the attackers gaining access to the facility, the employee added.

Algeria's official news agency APS said "two terrorists fired homemade rockets on the gas plant in Krechba," using Algeria's official term for Islamist militants.

A manhunt was launched to find the attackers, it said.

In 2013, a four-day siege and two rescue attempts by the Algerian army at a gas facility in In Amenas resulted in the deaths of nearly 40 foreign workers and 29 attackers.

The assault -- which also targeted a site run by Sonatrach, BP and Statoil -- was claimed by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants led by the notorious one-eyed Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former AQIM chief.

The attack prompted a widespread security review in the North African country, heavily reliant on income from gas exports.

The head of Algeria's army last week called for increased vigilance following what he termed an "unprecedented deterioration" in security.

Algeria has been on guard against jihadist attacks such as those experienced by its neighbours Libya and Tunisia, with local press reporting the deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers along its vast desert borders.

On Monday, a security source said a militant leader who had joined IS was killed during an army operation west of Algiers.

A brutal civil war in the 1990s between the government and Islamists killed 200,000 people.

Despite adopting a peace and reconciliation charter in 2005 aimed at turning the page on the conflict, armed groups remain active in the centre and east of Algeria.

A total of "157 terrorists, including 10 commanders" were killed or arrested in military operations last year, according to the defence ministry.

Algeria, a member of the OPEC oil cartel, is one of the world's largest exporters of natural gas, with revenue from fossil fuels accounting for 95 percent of its exports.

It has an estimated 16 billion cubic metres of conventional gas and 20 million cubic metres of non-conventional gas, according to Sonatrach figures.

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